(I started and re-started this countless times, trying to pick a point in time that suited my vision for the story. I began with her mother's funeral and that was just too depressing for me, so I decided to skip ahead in time a bit and go with something more positive. Thank you to everyone who read this fic and offered their comments and I apologize for the long delay in getting this last part written and posted.)
Claire sat towards the back of the church on the right side, a friend of the groom's. It never failed to amaze her after all these years that the emails continued coming. Weddings, birth announcements, and deaths she was kept apprised of them all. She figured that eventually someone would disregard her brother's wishes and stop sending the emails. And yet, here she was watching Lyle's great grandson get married.
"He looks just like him," Adam said, leaning in to whisper.
"I know," Claire said, feeling the tears filling her eyes no matter how hard she tried to fight them. She didn't claim to know how genetics worked, though some would assume differently if they knew about her. So, she didn't understand how the groom could be the spitting image of her brother. Yet no one until now resembled him so closely.
The weddings were a far happier occasion than the funerals. She'd been to her share of those, too. Adam had tried to tell her, warn her. She hadn't been truly prepared, didn't completely understand. Burying her parents and her brother was one thing. Her parents going before her was a given. Her brother a possibility in a normal lifetime despite his being younger than her.
But having to attend the services for a couple of his children had been hard. And yet, here was proof that life was always going on, renewing itself.
Always they sent gifts; the cards simply signed as being from Adam and Claire. No return address was used, but always they seemed to know whom the gifts came from and emailed thanks were received.
She assumed one day the invitations would stop coming, but until that happened she came and enjoyed being a part of her family's life. Even if it was only at a distance. It was the only way it could be. Adam had tried to stop her, but she refused to listen to him. And he came with her, sat with her, and held her hand.
Later, they'd return home and he'd hold her in his arms while she cried. Tears of joy that Lyle's family - her family - was continuing on. Tears of sadness that they were within arm's reach and yet she couldn't touch or feel the closeness.
And she missed it so.
She had Peter, but it wasn't the same. She hadn't grown up with him. She was a Bennet.
He never said he told her so, never tried to forbid her from continuing her attempt to monitor Lyle's family. She wouldn't have listened anyway, and he knew that. For that she loved him.
She couldn't recall when love had become part of the equation. Not instantaneously. It had grown into it, though. She remembered things about her life before she'd known him, but she'd spent so much of her life with him that it almost seemed like a dream when she thought of herself in the past by herself. Or without him anyway.
It could have started when he'd moved to Alabama so she could attend her college of choice. Or again four years later so she could go to the medical school of her choice. It could have been the first time she'd told him she needed some space and he'd given it willingly.
She'd still had friends then. Normal ones that she didn't have to completely lie to. She'd studied to become a doctor and she and a few of the female friends she'd made had rented a house together on the Cape for a summer before moving on with their lives.
She'd stayed long past tourist season had ended, just enjoying the solitude. The others had to leave after a month, having jobs to get back to and school loans to pay back that required they get to work immediately. She didn't have loans or the urgency to start working right away. Right away was a different vantage point when you'd live forever.
She'd flirted with someone else for the first time in years that summer. She hadn't done anything about it other than harmless talking. She wasn't a cheater and that hadn't been the purpose of the summer. She'd asked Adam for space not a release on their commitment. But it was refreshing - and reassuring - to know that someone found her attractive simply for her.
It had been heavenly to be there for that short while alone. So welcome and necessary because when it got down to it until that summer she'd never been alone. Adam tried so hard not to be demanding, but there was little he could do to lessen his intensity. It just was part of who he was, and she loved him for it. She liked to think that his intensity was what made them work. It was their first separation but it certainly hadn't been their last. As he'd said so long ago, they needed time away once in a while. Even if it was one wanted to travel one place and the other wanted to go someplace that was else.
He'd come eventually. She knew he would. She'd made memories of her own in the big old house they'd rented for the summer. And together they'd made more until the weather got too bad for the drafty place. They'd gone back a few years ago to discover the drafty old place had been torn down. Claire had been sad about that, a sign that it wasn't just human life she'd outlive.
She didn't have to work. He tried to tell her that several times, but it went against everything she'd been taught to not contribute something. And what would she do with forever if she didn't work? Being a doctor helped her save lives; she liked to think so anyway. He seemed to understand that and helped her keep her training and credentials current. The training was easy to keep current, there were always classes she could take. That was up to her. The credentials were his department.
Sooner or later another Bennet would be born and she'd have more information to tack onto her family tree. She kept track, passing along the information to the relatives who assumed Claire was dead.
"It never gets easier," she whispered.
"Not for someone like you, it wouldn't."
It wasn't an insult, rather his roundabout way of complimenting her. Despite his protests he liked that she clung so hard to this aspect of her humanity, kept track of her family. It was something he'd chosen not to do and by the time he'd met her and actually grown curious it was too late. Records centuries ago were not what they were when Claire had been born.
"Do you regret it?" he asked quietly as they shared a drink at the hotel bar, waiting for dinner to finish so they could join the celebration.
He arched an eyebrow, taking a sip of his beer.
"It occurs to me every time we attend one of these things."
"Yes, weddings. You didn't get one. Not like this."
She shrugged. "I had no friends but the few I'd made in college. My parents were in hiding. My brother couldn't come because he was in hiding even in college. What was the point?"
They didn't talk about her parents much. She'd seen them since leaving California only a handful of times. The Company was relentless in its pursuit of both Claire and her father. At times she wasn't sure who they wanted more. Her for her ability or her father for getting away from them and being able to stay gone. Of course, her family had gotten Adam's help eventually and been able to live out their lives after a while without looking over their shoulder every day.
It was only with Peter's invisibility and his willingness to go with her that she was able to see her father in the hospital before he died. All these years later she still wasn't sure how they'd gotten away with that, but somehow they had gone undetected and she'd been able to say goodbye. She hadn't gotten that chance with her mother. Her father had been gone for years by that time and Claire had felt relatively safe attending the funeral. She felt fairly certain by then The Company had bigger fish to fry than a special who'd escaped decades ago.
"So you don't?"
"Do I regret that I didn't get the wedding I dreamed of? Sure, but that doesn't mean I regret marrying you on the beach in Jamaica. I should ask you the same question. You married me for my benefit - and my father's - not yours," she said, glancing at his hand.
He wore his ring today. He didn't usually, which had bothered her once upon a time. Now it seemed so insignificant. The ring didn't signify what was in his heart or the sincerity behind his commitment to her. To them.
"Because I knew it was important to you and I wished to see you happy. So, you don't regret it?"
"No," she said softly. "I don't. I have no idea where I'd be if I hadn't given you a chance. Alone. And I've discovered as nice as it is to be alone once in a while, it's very nice to know I don't have to be that way. And coming to these things as you call them reassures me even more. I've grown rather fond of you, too, over the years. Don't let that go to your head or anything, though."
He leaned in and kissed her.
"That's good to know and I'll try not to. Thank you."
"Thank you," she said softly. "Now, let's go dance the night away."
"A woman after my own heart."
"You told me it was already spoken for."
His mouth lifted into a smile. "Alas for sometime now. This woman, relentless in her pursuit of me she was. She's a doctor, you know, so knew the intricacies of how the heart works and kept after me with her wiles. Eventually, I caved, and now I'm afraid it's too late to escape."
"Is that how it goes?"
"Something like that. I think my memory is foggy on the details," he said, grazing her lower lip with a fingertip. "As the roles may have been reversed," he said, sliding his hand from her mouth to his wallet. He left enough money on the bar to cover their drinks.
"You think you used your wiles on me?"
"Sweetheart, I know I used my wiles on you."
"Hmm," she said thoughtfully.
"Remind me later to show you just how much you've enjoyed those wiles over the years. I think there still might be a position or two we've yet to attempt."
"If you're not too tired from all the dancing I plan to do. I know your old age catches up to you sometimes."
He coughed softly, his eyes betraying his amusement. He gave a glance at the bartender as he pocketed his wallet. The bartender was looking at them rather strangely as people tended to do. They obviously had no way of knowing their situation or about their inside jokes.
He drew her to him then and kissed her breathless. The fact that he could still do that after all these years amazed and astounded her. She could always tell by the way his heart picked up that he felt the same way. Her eyes remained closed as he drew away and she let out a soft sound of protest.
"Age begets experience. Now, let's go dance at your nephew's wedding," he said, taking hold of her hand.
"That's what I meant."
"All these years and you still aren't used to it."
"I will in time, but there are so many years of there being solely me. Old habits die hard they say. Give me a couple hundred more years and I'll be used to it."
She wouldn't hold him to it, but she knew that as long as the invitations continued coming he would accompany her. And that was all that mattered to her, really.